U.S. linking prisoner swap to political goals: Iran

July 19, 2021 - 20:26

TEHRAN – The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman has once again accused the United States of using a deal on prisoner swap to score political goals.

Saeed Khatibzadeh said Iran had indirect talks with the U.S. and direct talks with the UK on humanitarian issues such as swapping prisoners but the U.S. didn’t fulfill its part of the deal and linked the swap to political issues. 

Speaking at a weekly press conference on Monday, Khatibzadeh said the U.S. remarks concerning the swap were astounding. “The comment we heard from America is astounding. In addition to the JCPOA talks in Vienna, we had parallel but separate talks with the United States and with the British on this humanitarian issue. Releasing Iranians who have been unjustly and cruelly imprisoned in the United States, some European countries, and other countries under false pretenses is a priority for Iran, but we looked at it as a humanitarian issue. What the United States is doing is tying a human issue to political issues,” Khatibzadeh stated. 

He added, “All sides went to make preparations, and the U.S. part of the deal was not fulfilled until yesterday, and when Iran told the other sides that the seventh round [of Vienna nuclear talks] will be held by the new government, the U.S. tried to tie this humanitarian issue to the JCPOA talks.”

The spokesman was reiterating what he said a day earlier. Khatibzadeh on Sunday confirmed that a swap has been agreed with Washington and London a day after the U.S. denied the swap. “Iran is ready to proceed TODAY,” Khatibzadeh said on Twitter. He was responding to a U.S. response to an earlier tweet by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araqchi saying that the U.S. and the UK were linking the swap to nuclear talks currently underway in Vienna over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Araqchi said ten prisoners on all sides stand ready to be swapped but the U.S. and the UK did not fulfill their part of the deal. 

“We're in a transition period as a democratic transfer of power is underway in our capital. Vienna talks must thus obviously await our new administration. This is what every democracy demands,” the deputy foreign minister said in a tweet on Saturday. 

He added, “US & UK need to understand this and stop linking a humanitarian exchange—ready to be implemented—with the JCPOA. Keeping such an exchange hostage to political aims achieves neither. TEN PRISONERS on all sides may be released TOMORROW if US&UK fulfill their part of deal.”

The U.S. rushed to deny that already a swap deal had been agreed with Iran, accusing it of an “outrageous” effort to deflect blame for the impasse in the Iran nuclear deal talks. “These comments are an outrageous effort to deflect blame for the current impasse,” U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said, 

“We stand ready to return to Vienna to complete work on a mutual return to the JCPOA once Iran has made the necessary decisions,” Price added.

The spokesman also said “there is no agreed deal yet” on the swap. 

“We had been engaged in indirect talks on the detainees in the context of the Vienna process, and the delay in restarting that process is not helping,” Price noted. “While it would be more effective to make progress if we were meeting in Vienna, we are also prepared to continue with talks on detainees during this period.”

Khatibzadeh lashed out at the U.S., reiterating that a deal on the prisoners had been agreed with Washington. “‘Outrageous’=the U.S. denying simple fact that ‘there IS an agreed deal on the matter of the detainees.’ Even on how to announce it,” he said.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman added, “Humanitarian swap was agreed with US & UK in Vienna-separate from JCPOA- on release of 10 prisoners on all sides. Iran is ready to proceed TODAY.”

“We let the American side go and make their own political decision”

In his Monday presser, Khatibzadeh dismissed the U.S. approach toward the swap deal as “wrong”. He pointed out that this approach will only complicate matters. “This is a wrong approach and makes all paths difficult. If the United States fulfills its obligations today, the release of 10 prisoners can be done with the United States and Britain. We advise them to abandon a human issue and act instead of empty statements,” he said, underlining that “this path can still be left open if they fulfill their commitments.”

Khatibzadeh also touched on the stalled nuclear talks in Vienna, blaming the hiatus in the talks on U.S. refusal to fulfill their commitments. “The Western side had not agreed to its commitments in the sixth round to return [to the JCPOA], and most of what had to be agreed upon was agreed on. A disagreement over some lists and names that the United States blocked in the sixth round still persists. We let the American side go and make their own political decision,” the spokesman noted. 

He also said that the delay in the resumption of the Vienna talks was due in part to the transition period in Iran. “In Iran, too, with regard to elections and the peaceful and civil transfer of power, a number of issues had to be discussed and the issues were raised in the Implementation Committee,” Khatibzadeh said, referring to a newly-established committee tasked with overseeing the outcome of the Vienna talks. 

“The Foreign Ministry, as a sovereign body, transmits the orders of the government and takes action to implement them. There are no major changes in the continuation of what was done in the twelfth government, and work will continue in the thirteenth government, and it is natural for the Foreign Ministry to act within the framework of government orders,” he continued.
Khatibzadeh stated that the resumption of the nuclear deal talks in Vienna hinged on the inauguration of the new government in Iran.

“Negotiations in six rounds in Vienna proceeded with vigor and seriousness. Religious democracy is running Iran. These talks were delayed due to non-implementation by the United States, and then elections were held in Iran. It is natural to allow the government to be established and move forward because of the requirements of democracy,” Khatibzadeh explained.

He stressed, however, that high-stakes policies are determined by the Leader of the Islamic Revolution and supreme bodies and that the government is the executor of these policies. 

“The macro-policies of the establishment are the ones set by the Supreme Leader and the higher institutions, the government and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs implement the decisions. This will continue in the normal way. It is important that the interests of the people and the supreme decisions of the establishment be implemented exactly,” Khatibzadeh noted.

He asserted, “The moment the United States returns to its obligations under Resolution 2231 and the JCPOA, and we’ve done with verification, naturally, the Islamic Republic of Iran will have a full resumption of its obligations. We have to wait for the formation of the new government.”

Since April, diplomats from the remaining parties to the JCPOA and the U.S. have held six rounds of talks in a bid to revive the deal. They made significant progress but failed to get Iran and the U.S. back to full compliance with the nuclear deal.

After the sixth round, Iran and the U.S. called on each other to make tough decisions to break the deadlock over the deal.

Ever since the end of the sixth round of nuclear talks in Vienna on June 20, the U.S. and its European allies, namely France, Germany and the UK - collectively known as the E3 – have been urging Iran to make “tough decisions” to revive the JCPOA, as if it was Iran that pulled out of the deal in the first place.

Iran responded by saying that if a party is to make tough decisions it is the United States and its European allies, not Iran. Because Iran had already made tough decisions after the U.S. unilateral decision to withdraw from the JCPOA in May 2018.